Frank (Rotenberg Dublin), Bena
Bedzin (Poland), Oberalstadt,
Bena was born in Bedzin, Poland in 1925. She lived in Bedzin until the war broke out. Her mother Yita was a seamstress and her father Nuta was a tailor. She also had two siblings: a sister Chana and brother Yisroel. Bena went to public school and also Hebrew school, called Bais Yaakov. The town had one large synagogue which was burned when the war began. Her family was religious: they lit candles on Shabbos and her father attended shul. Friday night the family had a wonderful meal which she helped to cook. Bena and her mother lined up at a bakery for challah at 6 a.m.
At the age of fourteen, the war broke out and the Germans raided her home. They were all taken to a large place for two days. Each family was lined up, the men and women separately. Her parents were deported. Her sister told her they were gassed. She was taken by truck to Camp Oberalstadt in Czechoslovakia to work. There she was guarded by SS women and labored for twelve hours each day. She lived in a barrack and her food consisted of one loaf of bread per week. Her clothes were taken away and she was given an apron with a yellow star to wear.
Bena’s camp became a concentration camp for two to three thousand girls. If the guards didn’t like a prisoner, she was sent to Auschwitz or made to do pushups in the snow. The girls wore their number on a string around their necks. At 5 a.m. they were awakened by a bucket of cold water thrown in their faces. . There were twenty- five girls to a room in her barrack. They slept on straw and had one blanket each. The girls walked for one hour to a factory for work. There was a woman in charge who made Bena pick up scraps outside the factory. She began to hide from her so she was selected to wash the kitchen floor. The woman ate soup in front of her, although Bena was starving. There were bathrooms but they were one block away and the girls had to go there as a group.
Illness ran rampant through the camp. The sick were sent to Auschwitz. Bena spoke both Polish and Yiddish and she understood German so she knew what the guards were saying.
One day, Bena saw a potato on the ground and picked it up. She was caught, beaten and kicked until she lost consciousness. Another time, after doing the same thing, she was told to do pushups and was beaten with a billy club until she could no longer walk. Two girls rescued her, helped her up and gave her water.
Bena was there for three and a half years. She met a cousin there who she didn’t even know, although the girl’s father was her mother’s brother.
Every night she went to sleep crying, not knowing anything about her family.
She was liberated by the Russians on May 8, 1945. The Russians opened the factories and told everyone to help themselves. The prisoners took everything and traded with each other. First and foremost, she wanted to find her family. She went home to Bedzin and asked for her neighbors for any family pictures. The Poles told her that everything was destroyed. They were always anti-Semitic, saying “Jews belong in Jerusalem.” She met some girls who told her that her sister was in Bergen Belsen. Bena’s boyfriend went with her to find Chana, who had survived and had been taken to Sweden to recuperate. They didn’t reunite until 1948.
Bena stayed in Bergen Belsen and shared a room with three girls. There was no work. She met her first husband, Shlamek Dublin, whom she married one year later. The wedding, she said, was like a child’s birthday party. There was a cake, a rabbi and a few people.
They continued to live in the camp. A few men began working as butchers. Her sister kept writing to her and Bena sent a picture of her husband. Sam went across the German border to find Chana, who was then in a transit camp, and brought her back. Bena was then seven months pregnant. Chana lived with them for one year until she met her future husband. Bena and Sam had a son, Nathan, who they named after her father.
Bena wanted to get out of Germany so they left for America in 1949. Their ship was the General McKay which was a cargo ship. HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, paid for their voyage. When they arrived, they couldn’t speak a word of English and waited five years to become citizens. Sam went to night school and HIAS gave Bena a book to read. She managed to teach herself English. She proudly said that she got all the questions correct on the citizen test with the exception of one.
Sam died in 1976. They had three more children, Fern, Helen and Barry and then ten grandchildren. Bena remarried amusician and postal employee, Marvin Frank, in 1979. He passed away in 2005.
Bena told her children about the war years when they were teenagers. She continues to be plagued by nightmares.
Interviewer: Donna R. Sklar
Date: April 26, 2005
Format: Video recording